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Big Law & Pay Equity: What Your Peers Are Saying

June 9, 2022, 8:00 AM

In “Big Law & Pay Equity: What Your Peers Are Saying,” Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP partners Alexandra Harwin and Melinda Koster, leaders of the firm’s discrimination and harassment practice, examine lessons from a proliferation of state legislation and court rulings on pay equity and offer concrete steps that all employers, including law firms, can take to close the gender gap in compensation and build a more equitable workforce.

Employers nationwide “should tread carefully” when it comes to relying on salary history to set pay, Harwin and Koster say. And law firms, when hiring lateral partners or associates, should set pay based on the job duties of the position, rather than the attorney’s prior compensation package.

Next we hear from Lori Andrus, partner at Andrus Anderson LLP in San Francisco, who says law firm diversity training, mentoring programs, and aggressive recruitment efforts still can’t seem to fix the inequity in pay between men and women attorneys. What does work, she says, is litigation.

Andrus, who is currently litigating an equal pay class action against the Walt Disney Co., briefly looks at lessons from some high-profile pay equity cases. For those considering initiating litigation, she warns that questions surrounding the “intersection” of race and gender can be tricky. Judges “haven’t always appreciated the complexities present in discrimination cases where gender plus minority status is in play,” she says.

There’s a “marked uptick” in the number of claims asserting alleged pay discrimination in the last few years, says Angela Reddock-Wright, founder of dispute resolution firm the Reddock Law Group of Los Angeles and a neutral with Judicate West.

Reddock-Wright observes that “pay equity claims are rarely standalone but tend to be joined with claims for gender-based discrimination, harassment, or other workplace violations.”

She offers practice tips for plaintiff and defense attorneys on how to prepare and approach mediation and settlement in equal pay litigation.

Finally, Joan C. Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at U.C. Hastings College of the Law weighs in. She discusses how biases in origination credit, in-group favoritism, and other factors are to blame for gender pay inequities, and suggests some fixes.

Read the Insights featuring pay equity legal issues and possible solutions by clicking on the authors’ names below.

Join us again for more in Insights on trending pay equity issues next week.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Rockelli Gordon in Washington at lrockelli@bloomberglaw.com; Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com